12 Common Negative Mental Scripts

We all have some variation of a negative mental script that we tell over and over again.  It’s whatever story we keep telling people about ourselves.  We keep telling the story because we get an emotional charge from telling the story, or from the responses we get for telling the story.

Here are the 12 most common negative mental scripts we often find ourselves saying:

  1. I’ve always wanted to try…
  2. I never had the chance to…
  3. I used to be like that, then…
  4. My parents never/always…
  5. I wish I had more time to…
  6. I just can’t seem to quit/start/continue…
  7. I’m just doing this on the side until…
  8. I would/could, but only if…
  9. My life sucks because…
  10. I would be happier if I could/had/have…
  11. I don’t have the skills/training/education/talent to do that
  12. … and there is nothing I can do about it.

There are three main components to a negative mental script:

  1. Negative mental scripts have what programmers call a “nested if” in them, or a “conditional statement.”  Meaning, that the person saying the negative mental script feels their present situation could be improved/change only “if such and such happened/happens.” Rather than just accepting we are happy or talented or fulfilled, the negative mental script tells us that we can only have such things when certain condition have been or are met.
  2. Negative mental scripts shift control and personal accountability away from the self, and typically put the blame on another individual.  This is very disempowering, and puts us immediately into a victim role.
  3. Negative mental scripts are emotionally charged, usually with a negative emotion such as bitterness, anger, fear, pity, etc.  Humans are emotional by nature, and as such, we are drawn toward strong feelings.  For some, it’s better to feel a strong negative emotion than a weak positive emotion.  This is why we tend to tell negative mental scripts over and over again.  We are addicted to the emotional charge.

To give you an example of how this plays out, I want to tell you a story about Derrick, a colleague of mine who is a doctor.  What Derrick has always longed for, however, is to be a violinist.  Or at least, so I thought.

Derrick started playing he violon at a very young age, practically a prodigy.  His parents had recorded all his recitals, which he is always more than happy to play anyone who is willing (or trapped) into listening.  Even to my untrained ear, I thought he was pretty good for a 12 year old.

Derrick apparently stopped playing once he got to college because he decided to major in medicine, and focus all his attention on his schoolwork.  Derrick’s version, however is that his parents forced him to study medicine and made him quit the violin.

Recently, Derrick wanted to pick up violin again, and to pursue his passion for music.  He felt he was too rusty to audition for a symphony right away, so he decided to take a few lessons first.  Derrick sought out a violinist who performs in a local symphony.

The instructor immediately recognized Derrick’s talent.  The instructor told Derrick that he plays beautifully, and it’s as if he’d never stopped playing.

Rather than take in the instructors praise, Derrick went on and on about how it has been his life-long, unfulfilled dream to play in an symphony, and how his parents cut him off from his dream at an early age.

He never thanked the instructor for the praise.

Derrick has become emotionally attached to this mental script of being the wounded child.  Derrick would rather attach himself to this old mental script of an adult who has an unfulfilled dream rather than accept that his is a good musician in the present moment.

Derrick gets to be angry and bitter toward his parents, and he also gets to receive sympathy (or pity) from the listener of his story, in this case, his instructor.  If Derrick acknowledges that he’s talented, or that he has full control of his future in music today, he doesn’t get to be angry at his parents anymore, and he has to take ownership of his future.  He would rather stew in anger and pity rather than take the risk of failure and risk the disapproval of his peers, even if that risk could pay off in accolades.

The trick to beating any negative mental script is to simply be mindful of your statements.  Listen to yourself as you tell you stories.  How do you want people to remember you?  How are you emotionally attached to these stories? How do you want people to respond to these stories?

What tired, old script are you passing around?

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  • Agaponzie

    I like this post, and you give an interesting synopsis of some negative mental scripts, but I think it goes further than this. While you give some examples of mental scripts, you don’t really describe what they are or why they exist. For interested readers, including yourself, i go into a bit more detail on my blog: http://agaponzie.blogspot.com/2013/01/what-are-mental-scripts.html

    • Thank for your comment, Agaponize.

      You are correct, I didn’t dive deeply into what causes mental scripts, and wanted to explore how to recognize them and why we might hold onto them. Many people don’t even know they actually recite the negative mental scripts.

      And thanks for your link.

      Young B. Kim
      idea coach

      ideavist | make ideas happen

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  • It’d be cool if you did a post on the best 12 positive mental scripts to leverage. Great read, thank you!